A little ArtSpark in Eugene

As schools stay shut down, arts teachers in Lane County shift their studio classes online and take the art to kids across 16 districts

As Covid-19 shuttered schools across Oregon, limiting access to in-person learning of core curriculum and electives alike, arts organizations like Lane Arts Council pivoted on a dime, reinventing program delivery models to meet the changing needs of students in Lane County.  

ArtSpark Online has been created so that every student across Lane County can have free, flexible access through open-access video tutorials teaching a variety of art forms,” says the county arts council’s arts education program manager, Eric Braman. “We have reached out to every school district in hopes of encouraging teachers, parents, and students to stay creative with the tools around them – whether that is turning dandelions into dye or an old sock into a new puppet! Each video provides clear instructions, guiding students to engage directly with the ‘making’ of art, exploring both visual and performance art.”


THE ART OF LEARNING: An Occasional Series


Lessons vary in length, depending on the art-making process, Braman explains.

“Our goal was to create 15-20 minute videos that guide students through approximately 45 minutes of viewing/art making,” Braman says. “We wanted to avoid “lecture-style” arts instruction, and instead always have the video directing students toward the ‘making’.”

The videos provide clear direction for students to follow and regularly instructs them to pause the video and go do.

“In the observational drawing videos, this translated to the artist showing the students how to begin a sketch, then instructing them to pause the video and take some time sketching on their own. In puppetry, the lessons were much shorter, but the unlimited potential between the crafting of the puppet and the performing of the puppet are unlimited! Our hope is that each video will encourage approximately 45 minutes of active engagement with an art form,” Braman says.

Alex Ever, demonstrating on Vimeo how to make natural dyes. Photo courtesy Lane Arts Council

Lane Arts’ teaching artists are learning new ways of doing things, too. Before quarantine measures, artist Alex Ever primarily taught students about natural dyes.

“It’s a very tactile, delightfully chaotic, and explorative classroom setting,” Ever says. “Rather than aiming to have students produce a product, my focus is on experimentation, collaboration, and process-based art as a valid form of making.”

Transitioning to a digital platform has asked for a big program restructure. Anyone who’s in school or working can relate. It’s a steep learning curve to see how challenging it is to do simple in-person activities, in a video conference, or an asynchronous lesson.

Jess Graff teaches scientific observational drawing online, with a focus on bugs, bones, and botany. Photo courtesy Lane Arts Council

“I have to fight the acceptance that I am not a professional YouTuber with high-quality tech to record and edit a professional level video series,” Ever says.

[Side note: As an artist myself, a playwright, I’ve come to see the imperfections of a Zoom performance as a kind of meditation on non-attachment. And, Ever notes, there’s something leveling in learning that happens in real time, for the educator and the student.]

“There’s something special about local artists being able to be a part of the remote learning experience,” Ever says. “We’re able to be present and remind other educators and caretakers that kids need time and space to engage in art.”

Lane Arts Council works hard to make its programs accessible to families and students with a variety of needs and backgrounds.

“These online tutorials are available for free online for all Lane County students,” says Braman. “Lane Arts Council has done outreach to every school district across the county. Our hope is that any interested district, school, teacher, parent, or student will access and utilize this tool at the time that is best for them/their community.”

Despite the challenges of a nimble move to online learning, administrators see the value.

“Both schools and teachers are adapting to this new digital system, and art generally isn’t the first curriculum that gets attention in terms of adapting it to at-home learning,” says Heidi Larwick, Director of Connected Lane County, an umbrella organization that works with all 16 school districts in Lane County. “Often it requires equipment and supplies that students aren’t likely to have at home, or that the district can’t afford to procure for all students. I think faculty are excited that this program will help fill that gap.

Noah McLain Philpot (and his sidekick, Fooble the Dragon) teaches kids via Vimeo how to make their own sock puppets. Photo courtesy Lane Arts Council
Philpot and Fooble captivate the online crowd. Photo courtesy Lane Arts Council

Just as we hear that classroom teachers miss real-time instruction, it’s not always easy teaching arts online.

“I can’t see my students!” says Ever. “I don’t know where to stop and support and provide more context. I love working in person because I know where to assist or challenge an individual or group based on how they are receiving instruction or exploring new ways of making.”

These are obstacles to consider, as we take a big breath and consider that we may still be facing closed school buildings in the Fall.  

But the need for arts learning is there. Now more than ever. Among the other online videos ArtSpark is offering are how-to demonstrations on scientific observational drawing, theater exploration, making sock puppets, writing songs, making paper-bag art, West African rhythm and dance, improvisational hip hop, street art, and nature art.

“Everyone is excited about getting art programs started at home because of the emotional support they can provide during difficult times,” says Connected Lane County’s Larwick. “Taking students outside of the traditional school setting and allowing them to get creative in a more personal environment could lead to some really interesting results, and we’re excited to see the kinds of things students create when they’re asked to expressed their feelings.”

Teaching artist Ever concurs: “Right now, kids are witnessing and enduring a lot of stress and change. Kids need artistic exploration and processing now more than ever to help them through these challenging and complex emotions. Kids need adults to be a positive voice that will give them permission to explore, make mistakes, and express themselves.”

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  • Footnote: ArtSpark online videos are published to Vimeo, with organized links made available at lanearts.org/online-learning and posted to Lane Arts Council’s social media.

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